Federal Records:

Document Removal by Agency Heads Needs Independent Oversight

GGD-91-117: Published: Aug 30, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1991.

Additional Materials:


J. William Gadsby
(202) 512-8387


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether current laws adequately protect federal records and the information they contain when senior federal officials remove documents upon leaving office.

GAO found that: (1) current procedures used to review document removal by agency heads are not adequate to ensure that the government's interests are protected, since no independent review of documents is made before they are removed; (2) the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) does not control or keep records of departing agency heads, as it does for departing presidents, and all eight of the former agency heads it reviewed removed documents when they left office; (3) agencies were unaware of classified material in two removed collections and failed to ensure that required security restrictions were followed for a significant amount of classified material in a third collection; (4) at least half of the document collections reviewed contained original documents that agencies did not know had been removed; and (5) once documents are removed, government access to documents is not ensured.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Bills were introduced in both the House and Senate of the last Congress but were not acted on. No new bills have been introduced this year.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Federal Records Act of 1950 to prohibit agencies from relinquishing any federal documents to agency heads and agency heads from removing such documents until NARA has determined that their relinquishment and removal are consistent with existing federal laws and regulations.


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 10, 2018

Jun 25, 2018

Mar 13, 2018

Jul 27, 2017

Dec 8, 2016

Nov 16, 2016

Oct 7, 2016

Sep 20, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here